Exhibitions Museums United Kingdom

UK folk art to be celebrated at Tate Britain

Curators unearth unusual objects in museum storerooms

The distinctly British Toby jug will take pride of place at Tate Britain as part of an exhibition of folk art opening next summer

An exhibition devoted to British folk art is due to open at Tate Britain in London next year (10 June-7 September 2014). The show, says the curator, will put the genre in the context of the national collection of British art for the first time. More than 100 paintings, sculptures, textiles and objects—ranging from rustic leather Toby jugs to ships’ figureheads and maritime embroidery—will throw light on a tradition generally held to be neglected by art historians.

The Tate curator, Martin Myrone, outlines the significance of the show, saying: “This exhibition will open up important questions about the boundaries between ‘fine art’ and ‘folk’, the mainstream and the marginal.” His curatorial team, he adds, has come across “giant shoes, a larger-than life straw man and a chicken made of old mutton bones. In researching the exhibition we are continually encountering objects in museum stores up and down the country which are surprising, even mysterious. The story of British art has focused on a canon of artists and on aristocratic and royal patronage, so…artistic heritage is generally identified with the culture of the elite rather than of society at large.” He says that folk art has not been collected in Britain to the same degree as in other countries, such as the US or in Scandinavia.

Much folk art is anonymous but the exhibition will explore the contributions of important figures such as the Cornish painter Alfred Wallis (1855-1942), embroider Mary Linwood, born in Birmingham in 1755, and the Bristol-based craftsman Arthur Anderson who created fairground fixtures, including intricate carousel horses carved from wood.

“There seems to be a zeitgeist with a great deal of enthusiasm among artists, illustrators and designers for British folk art, which may perhaps be a response to the digital age and a search for a sense of ‘authenticity’,” says Simon Martin, the head of curatorial services at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex.

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